OWATONNA — In an unusual, if not unique, situation, firefighters took more than two hours to fully extinguish a fire — without water — at an Owatonna manufacturing plant on Wednesday evening.
The Owatonna Fire Department received a call at 5:21 p.m. of a fire at AmesburyTurth in Owatonna on Florence Avenue. According to Arik Brase, who was the fire commander on duty Wednesday evening, the fire was contained to the chimney above the plant’s zinc melting furnace. Black smoke was seen pouring out of the chimney when firefighters arrived.
“The build-up in the chimney of the byproducts of that process is what caused the fire,” Brase said.
The zinc melting furnace is used to melt down scrap metal from the plant so that it may be used again.
Because of the zinc located in the furnace, Brase said that the fire department was unable to use water to extinguish the flames. When zinc is met with water the reaction released hydrogen gas, which reacts with oxygen explosively. Brase stated that the firefighters were informed on their way to the fire that it would be incompatible with water.
“We had to use carbon dioxide that is found in fire extinguishers,” Brase explained. “It was a challenge that doesn’t happen too often. I’ve been with the fire department for five years and this is the first one I’ve run into.”
The entire AmesburyTruth building was evacuated when the fire started, but Brase said that most of the employees were allowed entrance to the building after about an hour of the fire department’s battling the blaze. Brase added the area around the furnace remained evacuated.
The fire department was able to extinguish the fire and left the scene at 7:59 p.m. Brase said that as far as he knows the damage was contained to the chimney and small part of the roof.
Also responding to the scene was the Owatonna Police Department and the Mayo Ambulance. No injuries resulted from the fire with the ambulance only treating the firefighters for their standard procedure rehabilitation.
AmesburyTruth did not respond to a request for comment.